The word symposium means a conference or meeting to discuss a particular subject. In this case, it’s to discuss the specialty coffee industry. In 2009, the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) started the symposium to focus on the current events and topics in specialty coffee. I have attended all six SCAA symposiums in Atlanta, Anaheim, Calif., Houston, Texas, Portland, Ore., Boston, Mass., and this year in Seattle, Wash. The amount of people that attended has increased from 100 to around 400 people. The topics have to cover a wide range because of the people attending. You have roasters like H.C. Valentine, coffee farmers from all over the world, equipment manufacturers, baristas, coffee shop owners, restaurant owners, food service companies, innovation companies and all kinds of suppliers of products that go with coffee.
The SCAA states the purpose of symposium is to come together, exchange ideas and prepare ourselves for the challenges that the future holds as businesspeople, leaders and action-takers in specialty coffee. Leaders of the specialty industry address the latest indicators for the future of coffee and the way the symposium community can best leverage our shared intellect and resources!
This year opened with a great talk about the state of the coffee industry from the executive director of SCAA, Ric Rhinehart. I really enjoyed Ric’s opening comments because he puts a great, passionate spin on the good and bad things that happen each year in the industry. Coffee people tend to be very passionate about that part of the coffee industry. The first topic of discussion that Ric spoke about was the draught in Brazil and what that meant for all aspects of the coffee business. Because coffee is the second largest commodity in the world, and the largest job producer of any commodity, it’s a huge topic when supply goes down on a commodity when the demand continues to rise worldwide! Brazil is the largest producer of coffee green beans in the world. Therefore a draught in Brazil is surely going to drive prices higher. The c-market green coffee prices have risen from just over a dollar to over two dollars in May. The specialty coffees can be purchased direct trade from the farmers. This could still drive specialty coffee prices to increase $2 or more for the small micro-lots of specialty coffees that currently have a cost of $3 to $8 a pound. For the specialty coffees that currently cost over $10, it’s really hard to tell how much more they will cost this year moving forward. Many of the organic specialty coffees from Central America have already increased in price in 2014 due to the Rust or Roya disease.
Britannica describes coffee rust/roya as the most devastating disease of coffee plants, caused by the fungus Hemileia vastatrix. Long known in coffee-growing areas of Africa, the Near East, India, Asia, and Australia, rust was discovered in 1970 to be widespread in Brazil, the first known infected area in the Western Hemisphere. Rust destroyed the once-flourishing coffee plantations of Sri Lanka and Java.
The symptoms of coffee rust include small, yellowish, oily spots on the upper leaf surface that expand into larger round spots that turn bright orange to red and finally brown with a yellow border. The rust pustules are powdery and orange-yellow on the under-leaf surface. Later the pustules turn black. Rusted leaves drop so that affected trees are virtually denuded. Such trees usually die within a few years.
Coffee rust is controlled by the timely application of fungicide sprays during wet seasons. Plantations in some areas have been moved to higher and cooler altitudes, 1,800 to 2,100 m (6,000 to 7,000 feet), at which the rust fungus has difficulty reproducing. Quarantine has reduced the chances of coffee rust’s long-distance spread.)
Ric Rhinehart went on to say that the average coffee farmer still struggles to feed themselves and their families for 12 months out of the year. He then stated the 2014 Symposium topics:
*Selling Better Coffee to Selling Coffee Better
*Sensory Science and Coffee
*The History and Use of the Coffee Space
*Milk – Quality, Sustainability and Sourcing
* Coffee Leaf Rust – Effects, Response and Next Steps
Each topic was presented by a professional with such passion that it resonated with you no matter if you were a roaster, green coffee farmer, equipment manufacturer, coffee shop owner, or any other product supply for the specialty coffee industry. Each topic was a very deep dive into the history and/or science of the topic!